Old vines and new vines plus apple trees: a new vineyard is born

Planting a new vineyard is a milestone that will last for at least a generation. Deciding about the variety is a major choice. But deciding about where to plant, which distances between rows and vines, the training system and thinking beyond the vineyard as a place of resource production is at least equally important. We’re in the middle of a consolidation process. Starting with what we inherited from the family winery and what we could get in the first years to have at least something it became time to shape a set-up that’s supposed to last for the rest of our life.

We’re going to focus on two major hills. The Eselsberg north of our town has always been our main base with almost 3.5ha. It’s a fortunate hill where only one plot has a neighbor vineyard. The Eherieder Berg goes along a valley west of our town where we have a long-term lease contract for a Bacchus (Pet-Nat, Drei Freunde), Silvaner (Pet-Nat) and a Müller-Thurgau (Fledermaus) plot also with just one neighbor row. Luckily we got the chance to get another long-term lease contract for another 1.5ha connected to the land we already farm. Part of it is an established Domina vineyard that will stay and become the new Black Betty. The major part of it though consisted of a fucked up Müller-Thurgau which had to be ripped out which we did last year.

We thought for a long time about how to deal with that big rectangle (the one above the hedge on the map above). With 41 rows up to 130m on the drawing board it felt like an oversized, anonymous autobahn vineyard. So logically we thought about breaking it up. First by choosing different varieties. The western half was planted with a historic variety I fell in love with. It’s a forgotten and autochthone Pinot. In Germany it goes by the name of “Kleiner Fränkischer Burgunder”. As always when digging in the history of varieties it gets complicated. Regional names, mutations and the migration period make it hard to track it back. Here is a detailed paper (in German) doing its best. Two of the French names for this new old Pinot seemed to be “Petit Pinot” and “Franc Pinot”. It ripens later than Pinot Noir, skins are thicker, grapes and plants more robust. Until 2009 it was considered extinct and also not being a stand-alone Pinot but a synonym to Pinot, Meunier or Tressau. Both turned out to be wrong when a few survivors were discovered. This is going to be our future way with Pinot.

Besides old varieties bringing in attributes that make them do better in times of climate change than the established ones we consider Piwis / Hybrids being at least part of the future of viticulture. This is the European vitas vinifera cross-breeded with the Native American and / or Asian natives. So you want to cross deliciousness with robustness. We consider a field blend to be the most promising foundation for a complex wine so in this part of the new vineyard we mixed Souvignier Gris, Blütenmuskateller, Sauvignac, Donauriesling, Calardis Blanc and Muscaris. It’s also a mix of more and less aromatic varieties.

The soil out there is clay heavy with a good portion of young shell limestone. The topsoil was unsurprisingly not in a very good condition so it got a complete reset.

Due to the big C it was impossible to have a planting crew here at that time and the machine had to do the job. It’s kind of sad feeling seeing 4.100 plants going in within a couple of hours. The vineyard is planted but there is no connection. So we started building one.

From a well close by we got several tanks of water to give each plant an initial splash of about 10l with a hose system we set up for that purpose. Then we spent a little time planting an extra row, removing and adding some plants at the end of the rows so they all end up where they should. So much for the have-to jobs.

Another day our friend Krischan who runs a small cooperative for apple and pear juice and wine made with fruit from semi-wild orchards. He’s a true expert when it comes to trees. Krischan brought us a mix of 35 apple trees, mostly old varieties, some for cider, some for eating: Landsberger Renette, Roter Trierer Weinapfel, Damason Renette, Rheinischer Winterrambour, Topaz, Goldparmäne, Gewürzluiken, Alkmene Santana and Brettacher Gewürzapfel. Roughly one per row randomly distributed over the plot and each replacing one vine. Stems are about 3m high and the idea is that they’ll grow within the trellising and have a crown high enough so the tractor can pass by underneath. They’ll grow 10m wide and add a lot of character to that piece of land. Also they’re supposed to support the growth of a strong mycorrhiza network, block the wind, add a little bit of shadow and simply break up the monoculture and increase biodiversity.

I also left to gaps in the vineyard, 6m wide and 18m long where the trellising will be interrupted in three rows. The gaps were reserved for the about 4.000 old vines we ripped out last fall. We loaded them on the trailer and brought them back in creating two diamond shaped piles so the tractor can drive around them. They’ll grow into another biodiversity hotspot in the vineyard and they look gorgeous.

To get in a good population of microorganisms and start working on the humus there had to be compost. Of course. There was again coal (leonardite) mixed in for the humic acids and to prevent the nitrogen from becoming available too quickly. Also we sowed a wild mix of flowers, herbs and grasses – partly purchased, partly composed ourselves – to get the topsoil covered and start attracting life asap.

The last job was about protecting the baby vines from the lively wild rabbit population. The last vineyard we planted was smaller and we could use the wool from our sheep to protect them – this one was too big, our flock doesn’t produce enough. Normally there are plastic nets or pipes used for that purpose but I hate finding the plastic leftovers in the soil for decades. There must be a better way to do that and it turned out there is: waxed paper bags. It’s five times more expensive but it will rot and that’s worth the money. Also it looks really nice!

Digging a few holes the last days I was surprised how moist the soil still is and how many earthworms (big ones!) were digging around. It seems to be in a way better condition than I thought. So despite the the next drought looming on the horizon I’m optimistic that this vineyard will grow well and we can start experimenting with the first fruit next year.

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